1. Empower your student’s ideas for extracurricular activities.
Give yourself a break and let your student decide where to volunteer. Inspire him or her to go as far as they possibly can; your child doesn’t need to be the next Steve Jobs by senior year to get into a great school. Chances are, the more say your student has in where they volunteer, the easier it will be to get them out of bed on Saturday morning.
2. Move at your student’s pace.
I know. When your son is sitting in front of the TV at 9pm on a random Thursday, you may be wondering, “Hey, why aren’t you working on your college applications?” But keep in mind that you may have a different sense of when work needs to begin and your alarm could be going off a little earlier than his. Rather than playing the role of taskmaster--Get to work!--invite your son on a walk, or out for coffee. Spend some time together. Ask questions. Get curious. Which reminds me:
3. There’s no substitute for good old-fashioned listening.
This should probably be #1. Here are some active listening tips that I like (especially #8).
4. Consider hiring someone to help.
You don’t have to do this on your own. If it feels like it might be nice to have someone to help with the process, see: Is Hiring a College Essay Coach a Good Idea? If you’re certain it’s a good idea, but want more info, go here.
5. Combine a college tour with a vacation.
Here’s a win-win: avoid a dull college tour AND save money by combining college visits with a family trip. To get you started: about 20 miles from Stanford is Big Basin State Park where you can hike, swim, and wander through one of the few old-growth redwood forests south of San Francisco.
6. Encourage your student to reach out to admissions officers.
Not only will this build your child’s self-confidence and communication skills, but it’ll show the school “demonstrated interest,” which is something many schools track (in other words, many schools track how much concrete interest you’ve shown: Did you visit? Did you interview? etc.) Sure, it’s important for parents to stay informed, but it sends a poor message about your student’s motivation if admissions counselors only hear from a student’s parents. (Note that I underlined the words “your student” above.)
7. Support your child financially.
This doesn’t mean being your child’s piggy bank. Supporting your student financially means having your taxes done on time and putting your financial information into their hands, so that they can be equipped to apply for scholarships and fill out their FAFSA. Above all, stay informed and read about the Parent PLUS Loan, the most common parent loan option.
8. Be aware of deadlines, but don’t drive yourself crazy by working way ahead.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to what should be happening when. You can even download it and print it out; just drag it to your desktop.